Puppy Temperament Testing

December 27, 2020


When we walk into a store, kennel or rescue looking for a dog, we allow our hearts to steer us in making a decision. While all puppies have adorable, sweet faces, their personalities are as individual as human personalities and temperaments. What if you could determine which puppy is best suited for your family?

You’ll be happy to learn that you can. Temperament testing helps people find working dogs, service dogs and sporting dogs. It can also find the perfect family dog, especially for first time dog owners and families with young children. 

How many times have you heard people complain that their dog plays so rough that they cannot step foot in the yard without being “attacked”? Others are horrified that they cannot pet or touch their puppy without being bit. Then there are owners who didn’t consider the energy level of their new dog and now they cannot tire the dog even after hours of exercise. Temperament tests can help families locate a puppy with a personality and energy level closer to what they imagined living wi th. This week we are going to provide information for assessing puppy’s temperament.

Things To Consider:

  1. Temperament tests should be performed on a puppy at 7 weeks.  It is important to note that the test results of that 7 week old puppy will not be the same if you retest the puppy at 3 or 4 months, due to the puppy’s more developed brain, socialization factors and early experiences. Genetic traits also become more obvious at 3 or 4 months or older.  It is up to you to nurture that puppy and make sure you socialize, and train them.
  2. If you were to test a dog who is stressed from living in a shelter-like environment, those results may show signs of negative behaviors and the outcome of that dog’s test results will be poor. Once that same dog settles into their forever home and the stress level drastically decreases, that same dog’s test results may indicate a favorable outcome and you will end up with a fantastic dog. This is why fostering a dog can provide valuable information.
  3.  Not all dogs are the same.  Certain breeds may alter the results because they react differently than other breeds. It may be best to ask a professional to test the new dog or puppy if you are concerned or confused by the results.

Getting Started:

  1. Test the puppy in a quiet location away from littermates, people and other distractions.
  2. Puppies are most active and less sleepy before meals. It is best to test the puppy before mealtime, when they are most energetic.
  3. Vaccinations and illness will affect the results of your assessment. Refrain from visiting a puppy the day they are vaccinated and the day after vaccination. If a puppy is ill, reschedule your assessment.
  4. The tester should be someone the puppy doesn’t know.  Do not allow the person selling you the dog to test the puppy.

In this article, we are going to share Volhard’s Puppy aptitude Test (PAT). The Volhards are  internationally recognized experts on canine behavior and provide perfect instructions for testing a puppy’s temperament. The Volhard Puppy Aptitude Test consists of 10 tests that must be completed in order and consecutively.  The scoring system rates a dog from a 1 to a 6.  The purpose of these tests are to select the right puppy for your family. Each of the tests are independent.  The scores are not averaged. 

Volhand recommends that you make a note of the heart rate of the pup during the test, this is an indication of how it deals with stress, as well as its energy level.  “Puppies come with high, medium or low energy levels.  You have to decide for yourself, which suits your life style.  Dogs with high energy levels need a great deal of exercise, and will get into mischief if this energy is not channeled into the right direction.”

Volhard also suggests that you look at the overall structure of the puppy.  “If the pup has strong, straight front and back legs, with all four feet pointing in the same direction, it will grow up that way, provided you give it the proper diet and environment in which to grow.  If you notice something out of the ordinary at this age, it will stay with puppy for the rest of its life.  He will not grow out of it.”

Volhard’s scoring system: (Remember, puppies are rated between 1 and 6)

A puppy who receives mostly 1’s has a strong desire to be pack leader. He is  predisposition to be aggressive to people and other dogs and will bite.  This dog is not for a new dog owner or a home with children.  This dog should be placed into an experienced home.

A puppy who receives mostly 2’s has leadership aspirations and a lot of self confidence, which may make them hard to manage. This dog has the capacity to bite.  This dog needs a strict schedule, loads of exercise and lots of training. 

Note: New dog owners and families with children should stay away from the puppy who scores lots of 1’s or 2’s. This puppy needs an experienced home. Not good with children, the elderly or other animals.

A puppy who receives mostly 3’s can be a high-energy dog who need lots of exercise. This dog is good with people and other animals.  Due to the high energy, they can be a handful and will require training. This dog typically does well and learns quickly.

A puppy who scores mostly 4’s is the kind of dog that makes the perfect pet.  This dog is easy to train, and rather quiet. Good with elderly people and children. Dogs who score in the 4s are the best choice for the first time owner and families with young children.

Note: Keep in mind, a puppy who scores mostly 3’s and 4’s is still likely to have high energy and needs plenty of exercise. Visit AKC.org to learn more about the breed of dog that interests you.

A puppy who scores mostly 5’s is likely a fearful and shy pup who needs special handling.  Strange people, strange places, different situations and loud noises may severely frighten the dog.  This dog is one who will likely urinate submissively each time you come home and greet him.  This dog would do better in a low traffic home where routine doesn’t change much.  A mature couple without children would be a better fit for this personality.

Note:  If cornered and cannot get away, this dog has a tendency to bite

A puppy who scores Mostly 6’s is independent, which means he doesn’t need you or other people.  This type of dog is his own person and unlikely to bond with you.  This dog would do best working as a guard dog for a business.  Volhard warns, not to fall into the trap of thinking you can change this dog into an affectionate loveable dog.  “Truth is that you can’t and will that belief will just lead to disappointment for you and frustration for the dog.”


Now that we have all the background info, let’s get into each of Volhard’s puppy temperament tests and how to perform them.

TEST #1 is on Social Attraction – This test determines the degree of social attraction the dog will have with people. It determines confidence or dependence.

A familiar person will place the puppy in the test area (remember, the test area is a location unknown to the puppy). That person leaves the room. 

The tester should position themselves on the opposite side of the room. Meaning not near the door where the puppy entered.  The position should be a good spot, because the tester should stay put.  

The tester will kneel down and rest their weight on their heels.  By gently clapping hands or taping their fingers on the floor or lap, coax the pup to them.

Rating Test #1

The puppy comes readily, tail up high, if they jump and/or bite at hands, receives a score of 1

The puppy comes readily, tail up, paw or, licked at hands, receives a score of 2

The puppy comes readily, tail up receives a score of 3

Puppy  comes readily, tail low receives a score of 4

Comes hesitantly, tail down receives a score of 5

Does not come at all, this puppy receives a score of 6

TEST #2 Following – This test determines if the puppy shows a willingness to follow a person.

Stand up and walk away from the pup in a normal manner. Make sure the pup sees you walk away. Not following indicates independence.

Rating Test #2

Followed readily, tail up, got underfoot, bit at feet receives a score of 1

Followed readily, tail up, got underfoot receives a score of 2

Followed readily, tail up receives a score of 3

Followed readily, tail down receives a score of 4

Followed hesitantly, tail down receives a score of  5

Fails to follow or went away, feceives a score of 6


TEST #3 Restraint: This test indicates the degree of dominant or submissive tendency, and how it accepts stress when socially and/or physically dominated?

Crouch down and gently roll the pup on his back and hold it with one hand for a full 30 seconds.

Rating Test #3

Struggled fiercely, flailed, bit receives a score of 1

Struggled fiercely, flailed, receives a score of  2

Settled, struggled, settled with some eye contact, receives a score of  3

Struggled, then settled, receives a score of  4

No struggle. Receives a score of  5

No struggle, straining to avoid eye contact. Receives a score of 6

TEST #4 Social Dominance:  This test indicates the degree of acceptance of social dominance by a person.

Let pup stand up and gently stroke him from the head to back while you crouch beside him. Continue stroking until a recognizable behavior is established.

Rating Test #4

Jumped, pawed, bit growled. Receives a score of 1

Jumped, pawed. Receives a score of  2

Cuddles up to tester and tries to lick face. Receives a score of 3

Squirmed, licked at hands. Receives a score of  4

Rolled over, licked at hands. Receives a score of  5

Went away and stayed away. Receives a score of  6

TEST #5 Elevation Dominance – This test determines the degree of accepting dominance while in a position of no control, such as at the veterinarian or groomer.

Bend over and cradle the pup under its belly, fingers interlaced, palms up and elevate just off the ground. Hold it there for 30 seconds.

Rating Test #5

Struggled fiercely, bit growled. Receives a score of 1

Struggled fiercely. Receives a score of 2

No struggle, relaxed. Receives a score of  3

Struggled, settled, licked. Receives a score of 4

No struggle, rolls over. Receives a score of 5

No struggle, froze. Receives a score of  6

TEST #6 Retrieving – This test determines a degree of willingness to do something for you. This test comes into play to determine the ability to retrieve. It also determines successful guide dogs, obedience dogs, field trial dogs.

Crouch beside pup and attract its attention with crumpled up paper ball. When the pup shows interest and is watching, gently toss the ball a few feet from you.

 Rating Test #6

Chases object, picks up object and runs away. Receives a score of 1

Chases object, stands over object, does not return. Receives a score of 2

Chases object and returns with object to tester. Receives a score of 3

Chases object and returns without object to tester. Receives a score of 4

Starts to chase object, loses interest. Receives a score of 5

Does not chase object. Receives a score of 6

TEST #7 Touch Sensitivity – This test determines degree of sensitivity to touch.

Take webbing of one front foot and press between finger and thumb lightly, then more firmly till you get a response, while you count slowly to 10. Stop as soon as puppy pulls away or shows discomfort.

Rating Test #7

8 – 10 seconds before response. Receives a score of 1

6 – 8 seconds before response. Receives a score of 2

5-6 seconds before response. Receives a score of 3

3 – 5 seconds before response. Receives a score of 4

2 – 3 seconds before response. Receives a score of 5

1 – 2 seconds before response. Receives a score of 6

TEST #8 Sound Sensitivity: this test determines the degree of sensitivity to sound, such as loud noises or thunderstorms.  Also a rudimentary test for deafness.

Place pup in center of area. Tester of assistant makes a sharp noise a few feet from the puppy. A large metal spoon struck sharply on a metal pan twice works well.

Rating Test #8

Listens, locates sound, walks towards it barking. Receives a score of 1

Listens, locates sound, barks. Receives a score of 2

Listens, locates sound, and walks there curiously. Receives a score of 3

Listens, locates sound. Receives a score of 4

Cringes, backs off, hides. Receives a score of 5

Ignores sound, shows no curiosity. Receives a score of 6


TEST #9 Sight Sensitivity: This test determines the degree of response to a moving object, such as chasing bicycles, cars, children or squirrels.

Place pup in center of room. Tie a string around a large towel and jerk it across the floor a few feet away from the puppy.

Rating Test #9

Looks, attacks and bites. Receives a score of 1

Looks, barks and tail up. Receives a score of 2

Looks curiously, attempts to investigate. Receives a score of 3

Looks, barks, tail-tuck. Receives a score of 4

Runs away, hides. Receives a score of 5

Hides behind the tester receives a score of 6


TEST #10 Stability: This final test determines degree of startle response to a strange object

Place puppy in center of area. A closed umbrella is held 4 feet away and pointed perpendicular to the direction on the pup’s face. The umbrella is opened and set down so the pup can investigate:

Rating Test #10

Walks forward, tail up. Bites Receives a score of 1

Walks forward, tail up, mouths Receives a score of 2

Walks forward, attempts to investigate Receives a score of 3

Looks curiously, stays put Receives a score of 4

Goes way, tail down, hides Receives a score of 5

Ignores. Shows no curiosity Receives a score of 6

Based on the score breakdown, here is a reminder of where you want your new puppy to stand as far as ratings:

  1. Look for puppies who score with mostly 3s and 4s. This dog will be easy to train and a great addition to your family. Especially if you are a first-time dog owner, have small children or live with elderly people.
  2. Avoid the puppy with a score of 1, especially on the Restraint and Elevation tests. This puppy will be too much for the first time owner. This goes for puppies with mostly scores of 2.
  3. If you are unsure of the results.  Don’t make rash decisions. Go home and think it over.  Bring a professional with you to determine if you are making the right choice.
  4. Remember, the tests are not perfect.  Behaviors can change and develop over time. You must socialize and  train your dog from an early age.  Socialization continues throughout the dog’s life.

We hope this information helps you find the perfect puppy.  There is so much more to consider before welcoming a puppy into your family.  If you are looking for a new Podcast to listen to, check out Paws, Reflect and Learn with Katie.  Episode 13 of that podcast provides things to consider before getting a dog. Episode 17 provides information on the best time to bring your holiday puppy home.  

Listen to all of our podcast episodes for information on keeping your dog mentally happy and well trained. You can stream Paws, Reflect and Learn with Katie wherever you listen to podcasts.

While this holiday season will likely be different than any you have experienced before, we do hope you find ways to make it joyful.  From our family to yours we wish you a happy, healthy holiday.  Until next time, we enjoy teaching you to train them.  

Credit: Volhard’s Puppy temperament Training for the information.

Written by Katie McKnight

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